Will walked out of the office building in Washington, D.C. and straight into the path of Arizona Senator and former Presidential candidate John McCain. Without missing a beat he stepped up and asked Sen. McCain if he could have picture.
That snapshot says a lot about the young man who entered Discovery Academy as a troubled teen and left ready to participate in a youth leadership program at his high school.
“I had a really bad relationship with my parents,” Will recalls. “I was really rebellious, skipping classes, doing drugs, all that stuff.” His family first sent him to a troubled teen program in Virginia. But the company went broke and left his mother scrambling to find a better solution. She picked Discovery Academy.
“I wasn’t really happy about coming to the cold in Utah,” Will says with a laugh. “But the mountains are really nice there.”
A mountain of schoolwork was waiting for him. His former program refused to release his academic transcripts so Will had two years worth of high school work to catch up at Discovery. Although it looked daunting, Will said his teachers made all the difference.
“My teachers were really good,” Will recalls. “They were a lot of help and I really had a good relationship with them too. I felt like I could talk to them about everything. I felt comfortable asking them questions.”
Back home in public school, Will says he often misses his Academy experience. “It’s hard to get all the attention and the specific help that you get at DA,” he says. “In my math class at home I have 30 kids there. The teacher just goes crazy trying to get all the papers done. She barely has time to help me and work out problems I don’t know. It’s pretty hard just to keep up in that class.”
He adds, “There are a lot less distractions at DA. You don’t have to worry about dressing up or feeling insecure. You just go there and do your work.”
Will’s hard work and his teachers’ dedication paid off. He completed two years of high school credits in just one year at Discovery Academy.
But he says the best part of being a DA student was the community service project he organized. “I didn’t want to do it at first,” Will says. “I thought it was dumb.” But Janeen Martin, Will’s therapist, insisted. A community service project is required to earn Honor Level status at the Academy.
Will decided to conduct a canned food drive for a local food pantry. “I’d never really organized anything or had to get people to do things,” he remembers. He was worried he wouldn’t be up to the challenge. “I kept thinking what if this goes wrong? What if we don’t get enough food?”
He convinced a local grocery story to donate bags that he and his fellow students distributed throughout the neighborhood. Residents filled the bags with food for students to collect when they returned the following week.
“We ended up raising 600 pounds of food!” Will says excitedly. Although it’s been a year since that activity, you can still hear the pride in his voice. “Just seeing all that food we got on the scale. It was so cool! It was empowering!”
Will is preparing for high school graduation this spring and is busy applying to colleges. For now, he’s considering a career in social work or perhaps medicine. “I just want to be like my mom and help people,” he says.
He says Discovery Academy made the difference. “It gives you that initiative to take charge of your life instead of just drift in the wind.”
Maybe someday a young high school leader will be asking Will for his picture.